Okra is a widely eaten fruit (albeit thought of as a vegetable), though it isn’t as familiar to UK cooks as it is to those in the Americas, Asia and Africa (where it’s thought to be indigenous).
Okra pods can be ridged and taper to a point at one end, which is why they are sometimes called ladies fingers. They contain tiny pale seeds and a gel-like substance that is released when cooked and can turn slimy or mucilaginous, which is a prized texture in some cuisines, like that of the American South. There, it acts as a thickener in soups such as Cajun gumbo.
In Indian cuisine where it is known as bhindi, okra is often fried, sometimes dipped in gram flour first to make crisp okra fries, or added to curries. The flavour of okra isn’t really comparable with anything else but it is mild – whether you like it or not comes down to texture.
Fresh okra should be a vibrant green with no black spots or blemishes, it will keep in the fridge in the salad drawer for a few days provided it doesn’t get too damp.
How to cook okra
Okra will only become very slimy if it is cut, then cooked in water. If you trim it without piercing the pods and fry it, or roast it whole then it will crisp up on the outside while becoming tender inside.
You can also slice and fry it, but handle it as little as possible. Some recipes call for it to be fried before being added to a liquid which helps keep the sliminess down. If you only cook it for a short amount of time it will have a crisp texture like a green bean; there are many American recipes for okra dipped in cornmeal batter and fried to crisp nuggets. The more it cooks, the more tender it becomes.
Soaking the whole pods in water with a couple of slices of lemon for an hour is said to help eliminate some of their sticky liquid. If you do want to release the liquid so the okra acts as a thickener, slice the pods thickly or thinly before adding them to the dish.
Quick-fried okra recipe
- handful of okra per person
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- pinch of turmeric
- pinch of chilli powder
- Trim the okra ends, then cut each one into 1cm pieces.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then tip in the okra, keeping the heat relatively high. Shake the pan so the okra starts to fry on all sides.
- Fry for about 8 mins, shaking every now and then, and turning the heat down if you need to.
- Add the turmeric and chilli with plenty of salt and pepper and shake the pan, frying for another minute. The okra should be browned and crisp at the edges and will have shrunk in size. Tip into a dish and serve.
Our top okra recipes
1. Spiced okra curry
Our spiced okra curry makes an excellent side dish or even a main course. Use fresh, young okra and serve it with steamed rice. It takes just a handful of ingredients and is great for feeding veggies, vegans and carnivores alike.
2. Chicken gumbo
Gumbo is another name for okra, which is how this dish got its name. This chicken gumbo recipe is a quick version, ready in an hour and packed with flavour and spice. It’s also low-fat, healthy and freezable for midweek meals.
3. Okra with tomato sauce & couscous
Need a simple veggie dish you can make with storecuoboard ingredients? Our okra with tomato sauce & couscous, served with a drizzle of yogurt or salty feta is full of colour and texture.
Want to try more cooking techniques and delicious recipes?
What’s your favourite way to eat okra? Leave a comment below…